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Adam Walford, a partner in the real estate/retail and leisure teams at Howard Kennedy LLP, explains what real estate law involves.

Real estate law: area of practice

Transactions range from the acquisition of a flagship retail store or small pop-up restaurant to the investment sale or purchase of a mixed-use building, explains Adam Walford – a partner at Howard Kennedy LLP.
The best part about being a real estate lawyer is seeing the outcome of your work – the trading businesses in the high street, shopping centre or city centre – every day.

Real estate lawyers assist retail and leisure businesses in their acquisition, occupation, ongoing management and disposal of their trading premises. They help landlords to secure their income streams by letting premises to occupiers.

A typical transaction in real estate law

Typical transactions range from the acquisition of a flagship retail store on Oxford Street or small pop-up restaurant in Shoreditch to the investment sale or purchase of a mixed-use building. Lawyers have many transactions running at any one time – sometimes as many as 15 or 20. Teams are quite small: typically as small as just two lawyers.

The length of a typical transaction ranges from a couple of weeks to a number of months. Lawyers are involved at all stages of the transaction. At the very outset, they assist as client with negotiating the heads of terms to make sure that the transaction starts on the right footing. They then assist with the negotiation of an agreement for lease or contract for sale or purchase – often conditional on matters such as the landlord securing the property as vacant premises or the grant of planning permission for the intended use.

Once exchange has taken place and the conditions have been satisfied, the parties move to completion of the lease and the occupier then taking possession to commence its fitting out works and realising its dream of opening the premises.

What is working life like for a real estate solicitor?

Much of a real estate lawyer’s working time is spent at his or her desk. It is important to understand the client’s business, however, so meetings often take place at a client’s premises. An essential part of the job is meeting and networking with people within the sector that you are working in. Our clients want to work with lawyers who understand their industry and who care about their business so plenty of time is spent meeting and socialising with clients, real estate brokers and other people in the industry.

A typical day is from approximately 9.00 am to 7.00 pm but there is often work outside of these hours: telephone calls, emails or, perhaps on busier occasions, some document work. The transactions do not often have rigid deadline but there is a need to be proactive and progress them as quickly as possible to achieve the client’s ambitions.

The best part about being a real estate lawyer is seeing the outcome of your work – the trading businesses in the high street, shopping centre or city centre – every day. The worst part is all of your friends expecting you to know the latest cool restaurants and places to ship, and asking for recommendations all the time.

The type of work you’ll be given as a trainee solicitor

You would be involved in assisting with all aspects of the transaction as a trainee. This could be reviewing the landlord’s title to the property and replies to standard enquiries giving information about the property, assisting with the negotiation and drafting of documentation, reporting to the client, taking instructions and meeting with clients.

There is plenty of opportunities for early responsibility. Trainees are given files that are theirs to manage from start to finish on general real estate matters – for example, obtaining landlord’s consent to alterations to the property for a refit or varying a lease to reflect revised terms the parties have agreed.

What impact will Brexit have on real estate law?

The retail and leisure sectors have their own pressures aside from Brexit that are rapidly changing the way trading businesses view their real estate needs. Brexit undoubtedly has created operational issues – predominantly with employees – and it seems that matters are unlikely to ever return to the way they were but this is not solely due to Brexit.

There are a number of international retailers and leisure operators who see the UK as an attractive market and do not seem to have any concerns about continuing to invest in the UK as either their platform for European expansion or as a standalone market.

The skills good real estate solicitors have

  • Business acumen.
  • Team working, drafting and negotiation skills.
  • Passion about the sector your clients operate in and able to deliver on your client’s ambitions.
  • Methodical, proactive and free-thinking mindset.

Types of law practised in real estate departments

  • Contract.
  • Property.
  • Landlord and tenant.
  • Employment.
  • Property litigation.

ADAM WALFORD is a partner in the real estate/retail and leisure teams at HOWARD KENNEDY LLP. He graduated with a degree in law from the University of Birmingham.

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